Selecting a Spinnerbait

Back in the year 1983 when I was 18, I won my first ever bass fishing tournament using a spinnerbait.  The lure is one of the original pillars of a tournament fisherman’s arsenal and they still catch plenty of bass today.  In fact, I think it can often be overlooked as anglers seek out more trendy offerings.  But obviously not all spinnerbaits are alike because they come in various sizes, colors, and blade combinations.  Let’s sort this out so you can tie on the most suitable spinnerbait for the conditions and put more bass in the boat.

When picking out a spinnerbait, the environmental conditions determine which features to incorporate into the bait.  The conditions I factor into the selection are water clarity, predominant prey, and desired running depth.  These variables affect my selection of blade syle/color, the number of blades, skirt color, and the weight.

The blade(s) on a spinnerbait offer flash and vibration as attracting mechanisms for bass.  Flash is most important in clear water because in that situation, bass mostly use their vision to feed.  On the other hand, vibration is the most important mechanism when spinnerbaiting in muddy water.

There are three common types of blades each offering a unique flash/vibration – the willowleaf, the Indiana, and the Colorado.  The willowleaf is a common selection in clear water because it has the elongated, flashy silhouette of a baitfish.  The more slender shape also offers the least water resistance, so the spinnerbait will track properly without rolling or running sideways at higher retrieve speeds.  But it has the least vibration.  The Indiana blade is a compromise between the willowleaf and the Colorado.  And the Colorado with its round shape, puts of the most vibration or thump and is often selected in muddy water situations and also when fishing in the dark.

Spinnerbaits usually come with either one or two blades.  Most flash oriented spinnerbaits come with two blades for added flash.  However, spinnerbaits designed with vibration as the goal, will often come with just one blade.  The thought is that two Colorado blades will cancel each other and instead give less thump.

Blades are made in various sizes.  Bigger blades offer more flash, vibration, and lift.  Most of the time I use blades that vary from a size 3 to a 6, and try to correlate the size to match the predominant forage size.  So when the baitfish are running small, then I lean towards the size 3 and 4s.  If the baitfish are running bigger then I run a 5 or 6.  On tandem spinnerbaits,  the front blade is always smaller, but I really don’t know why.

Blades come in gold, nickel, brass, copper, and painted hues.  In clear water, I usually stick to one of the metal finishes.  Furthermore, if the baitfish are silvery then I choose nickel.  But if the bass are eating bluegill or perch, then I prefer the other metal finishes.  Painted blades in clear water I reserve for cloudy days or night fishing.  As an exception, I know a lot of popularity exists for a red or orange front blade on a tandem-bladed spinnerbait even on a sunny day.  And regarding muddy water, that is when painted blades are often used quite a bit.  Usually, it’s either white, chartreuse, or black.  Black for the muddiest of situations.

The selection of the skirt color goes hand in hand with the blade selection.  When I have silvery baitfish, then my skirt is going to have a white base.  And if bluegill or perch are the main forage, then more of a chartreuse base.  Water clarity and sunlight will affect how boldly I will choose a color.  I want my skirts to be soft and subdued in clear water and sunshine, while on the other extreme with muddy conditions and/or low light, I prefer bold tones.  For example, a white skirt I choose for clear, bright conditions will have white, but also some clear strands with silver sparkle, and/or some smoke strands too.  But a white skirt in muddy water is going to be all white; like eggshell or marshmallow white!  And then for fishing after dark, black is the standby.

And lastly, the targeted running depth will determine the appropriate weight of spinnerbait to chose, and also influence the blade styles and sizes that are chosen.  Spinnerbaits come in all different weights from 1/8 oz to over an ounce.  Obviously, heavier spinnerbaits will track deeper in the water column that lighter ones.  However, blade selection also has a bearing on running depth.  First, two blades have more lift than one blade.  Second, bigger blades have more lift than smaller ones.  And third, the blade style also influences lift.  Willowleaf blades have the least lift and are great for slow-rolling in deeper water.  Indiana blades are in between, while Colorado blades have the most lift.

I have quit throwing any spinnerbait less than 3/8 oz under any circumstances.  That is because lighter weight spinnerbaits roll easier and run off kilter especially if the blades are too big.  Keep that in mind regarding blade size and spinnerbait weight.  It takes a heavier spinnerbait to handle bigger blades and still run a true, vertical position.  Also, lighter than 3/8 oz and the spinnerbait doesn’t cast as nice on a baitcaster.   Most of the time, I am either using a ½ or ¾ oz, with the latter being great for making long casts on smallmouth waters.

If I were to suggest one spinnerbait, it would be a ½ oz tandem, nickel-bladed, willowleaf, with a white skirt.  The blades would be size 3 and 4.  This spinnerbait would do fine in most common situations.

The spinnerbait has been around since nearly the dawn of bass tournaments themselves.  And they still account for bass at the weigh-in even at the highest levels of competition.   They come in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and styles.  Therefore an angler needs to assess the situation facing them, understand how different features affect a spinnerbait’s performance, and then finally match the conditions with the perfect spinnerbait!

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One Response to “Selecting a Spinnerbait”

  1. Sandy Cohen

    Very insightful article, Jim really lays it out. Thanks Jim